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By Staff | Sep 4, 2009

Summer is waning, the days are growing shorter and our instincts are urging us to fill our larders in preparation for the Long Cold. In essence, we are nothing more than large and mostly-hairless squirrels.

Except for many of us no longer store food in the fall. We instead specialize at our jobs and leave the specialized job of preserving food to others.

Not that there’s anything wrong with this. The victuals from Industrial Amalgamated Foodstuffs Inc. are probably just fine. But these food items are so perfect, so uniform, they tend to have all the charm of a gravel pit.

Give me hand-packed pickles that have personality: sliced unevenly and with maybe a bit too much dill. And I don’t mind sweet corn that includes a smidgeon of silk.

I grew up eating home-baked bread and veggies raised in our farm garden. It was impressed upon us kids that food which was “boughten” was somehow inferior. It also cost money, but my grasp of economics was slippery at best.

At school we were introduced to Wonder Bread. We immediately began to harangue our parents to buy Wonder Bread for us and they eventually gave in.

Things have now gone full circle. We’ll gladly pay extra for “hand-crafted” bread, which, in another time and another place, was known as “homemade.”

When I was a kid, the arrival of Indian Summer meant the start of the canning season. The kitchen, already sweltering, was turned into a virtual sauna by the army of steaming kettles Mom had standing at attention on the stove.

Lugs of stone fruit would appear in the pantry. Peaches, plums, cherries and apricots waited patiently in their wooden crates. I never recall any of those things being derided as “boughten,” even though they weren’t grown on our farm.

A lesson that was thoroughly impressed upon me at that time had to do with plums.

One Indian Summer afternoon, I bit into a so-purple-it’s-almost-black plum and was thunderstruck by how incredibly delicious it was. Within minutes, and despite dire warnings, I had wolfed down nearly a dozen plums. I soon learned the terrible meaning of the term “purple revenge.”

Another food-related item that has changed markedly over the years is the number of restaurant meals we consume.

When I was a youngster eating at a restaurant was a Big Deal. It was considered wanton and wasteful, the sort of thing you only did on Leap Day – and then only if Leap Day happened to come on a Friday.

I had my first bona fide restaurant meal when I was about eleven. My sister Janet had obtained a driver’s license and took her twin, Jane, and my sister Dot and I to Ione’s Cafe in Brookings.

It was a weird experience on many levels.

First was the idea of eating in front of all those strangers. What’s up with that? Why would these people – all of them unknown to me – come here to watch me chew?

It was also odd to have food served to me by someone other than Mom. Who is this mysterious lady carrying food to us? Can we trust her? Is she licensed for this? Is she bonded?

Hoping to appear suave, I ordered the Italian spaghetti. This despite the fact that all my previous spaghetti experience came from a guy named Boyardee.

A plate covered with slithering pasta was set before me. I dug into the sluice of saucy noodles. Good grief! Those things were l-o-n-g! They bore only a slight resemblance to the earthworm-like spaghetti to which I was accustomed.

Spooling the noodles on my fork created a wad approximately the size of a cantaloupe. That would never do.

Not knowing the proper protocol for eating such lengthy spaghetti, I decided to simply slurp the stuff as seen in the movie “Lady and the Tramp”.

Which worked fine, except I wasn’t nearly as suave as the Disney dogs. Some of noodles must have been a yard long and thus required a high level of suction. The spaghetti tended to accelerate as it entered the alimentary canal, its end whipping wildly about like the tail of a freshly-beheaded snake.

Which would have been OK except for the marinara sauce. I noticed that nearby diners were wiping their faces frequently and casting annoyed glances my way.

I thought they were overreacting until I got home and found that the hair at the back of my head was plastered with sticky red sauce. That is pretty much when I gave up on ever being suave.

I resolved to never again eat pasta in public. Besides, Mom had plenty of homegrown tomatoes she could turn into sauce and we could always raise some decidedly unboughten spaghetti squash.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com

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